WASHINGTON>> Michigan completed a magical run to its first Big Ten Tournament title, using a swarming defense and accurate shooting to beat No. 24 Wisconsin 71-56 on Sunday for its fourth victory in four days.
The eighth-seeded Wolverines (24-11) began their journey with a scary skid off the airport runway in Michigan and ended it by overwhelming the second-seeded Badgers, who had won three straight — including the regular season finale against Minnesota — by a total of 55 points.
Between the aborted flight and their final unexpected victory, the Wolverines beat Illinois, eliminated top-seed Purdue and sent home No. 4 seed Minnesota.
And so, the first Big Ten Tournament in the nation’s capital ended with a surprise champion cutting down the nets at Verizon Center. Michigan won the title in 1998 but had it vacated due to NCAA sanctions.
Derrick Walton Jr. scored 22 points, D.J. Wilson added 17 and Zak Irvin had 15 for Michigan, which had lost 17 of its previous 20 games against Wisconsin. The Wolverines shot 56 percent and were 10 for 23 from beyond the arc.
Bronson Koenig scored 15 points, and Nigel Hayes and Ethan Happ had 14 apiece for Wisconsin (25-9), which shot 39 percent from the field and scored only 24 points after halftime.
The Wolverines took control at the outset of the second half, holding Wisconsin without a field goal for the 8 minutes to turn a 33-32 halftime lead into a 44-34 advantage. Wisconsin went 0 for 8 from the field and committed four turnovers during the pivotal span.
After the Badgers threatened to make a game of it, Michigan had an answer.
It was 51-45 before Irvin and Duncan Robinson sandwiched 3-pointers around a basket by Hayes for a 10-point cushion with 3:51 left.
Not long after that, the thousands of Michigan fans in the large crowd began the countdown to the final buzzer.
Five players scored Michigan’s first five baskets, and the Wolverines went 8 for 12 from the field in taking a 19-13 lead.
After Wisconsin closed to 21-20, Walton drilled three successive 3-pointers to increase the margin to double digits.
The Wolverines then went scoreless for nearly 4 minutes, and Wisconsin closed the half with a 12-3 run.
Michigan: The Wolverines enjoyed a memorable run in the tournament on the heels of a somewhat disappointing regular season in which they went 10-8 in the league, including losses to Illinois and Ohio State.
Wisconsin: The Badgers thought they had recovered from a run of five losses in six games, but this dud of a performance might change that perspective and force them to make adjustments before heading into the NCAA Tournament.
SO LONG, WASHINGTON
The first Big Ten Tournament in the nation’s capital ended with a large crowd cheering for two teams with absolutely no local ties except for alumni in the transient Washington area.
Even if total attendance this week wasn’t overwhelming, the shift to the East Coast validated the Big Ten’s desire to branch out from the Midwest.
Next year, the tournament will be held in New York at Madison Square Garden.
Michigan: The rigors of the NCAA Tournament should be a breeze for Wolverines after they showed their mettle by playing — and winning — four games in four days.
Wisconsin: The Badgers make their 19th consecutive appearance in the NCAA Tournament.